I'm sure that, at one time, under certain conditions the .357 Mag would crack an engine block. OF course, there us just a wee bit of difference between what was on the road in the late 1930s and what is on the road today.
And there is more than a little bit of difference between the .357 Mag of those days and the commonly used loadings today.
And also ammo companies used to make "metal piercing" ammo in several calibers (not military AP (armor piercing)), using a load and bullet intended to give superior performance over regular ammo against car bodies and such things.
Engine blocks in those days were different as well, generally. Flat, boxer, or straight engines dominated, relatively large surface areas, and I'm pretty confident that the quality of the casting and the alloys wasn't what it is today.
Penetration and effectiveness against automobiles? How to figure it? Is it a factor, if so, how much? Interesting questions, and the opposite end of the usual discussion of defense loads, where so many people are concerned about over penetration of their ammo.
Choose a round (and loading) powerful enough to punch through cars and that stuff will sail through your apartment or house walls with authority.
Bullets with rounded nose shapes can glance off of hard surfaces at certain angles, where they would cleanly penetrate that same surface at a different angle. The list of variables is huge.
Personally, I don't think that performance against vehicles is, or should be much of a concern for anyone not in "business" of protecting us from people in vehicles. Police, LEOs, military, and private security types have to deal with that, ordinary citizens generally don't.
What you use, and how effective it is depends not just on the ammo, but what it is shot out of, and the specific details of the shooting as well. Read a test done back in the 70s, using cars from the 50s on up, the results, using what was available then, were interesting, and varied.
One result sticks in my mind, the (then standard) .38SPL 200gr RN "police"load, fired out of a service revolver (6") would reliably penetrate car windshields. The same ammo, fired out of a 2" Chief Special would not reliably penetrate under the same conditions.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a .44 Mag, fired from behind went through the trunk lid, back seat, front seat. 3/4" plywood cutout representing the driver (also blowing a loop of the front seat springs through the it), through the dashboard, and "raised hell with the air cleaner" before finally stopping. And this was an early 60s sedan, with just a bit more metal than today's avererage car...
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.